By now, most people have heard about Rush Limbaugh’s announcement that he is addicted to pain killers. The main issue here is not whether or not you agree with Limbaugh’s political viewpoint – but rather that someone can be addicted to drugs for years with those closest to the person being totally unaware of it.
Limbaugh’s coworkers were apparently unaware of his addiction, perhaps because they didn’t know what to look for.
Many health organizations are realizing that prescription addiction is a growing trend, and material is being published to help people recognize the signs. One organization publishing such material is the Mountain View Hospital system in Alabama. They say some of the symptoms of prescription drug addiction may include a shift to not wanting to be around others or attend social functions, difficulty paying attention and remembering, and not enjoying activities that were formerly enjoyed.
Other signs may be:
- Chronic pain or multiple injuries over time requiring a continuous supply of medication
- Asking others for their left overmedications
- Often taking family members’ prescriptions
- Use of multiple physicians and pharmacies to cover up the amount and frequency of prescription medication use
- Past history of addictive behaviors (e.g., alcoholism)
- Feigning physical or psychological problems
- Having dramatic and compelling but vague complaints
- Unconcerned with a diagnosis or keeping up with treatment in addition to the medication (i.e., missing appointments for x-rays, laboratory tests, or follow-up with another physician)
- Rejection of all forms of treatment other than medication
Obviously, if you suspect a co-worker to be addicted to prescription drugs, professional help should be sought. Yet even after treatment, those who are dealing with any kind of addiction are best served through support groups – not criticism and castigation.
In our age of technology, some support groups exist electronically. Websites such as HealthyPlace.com and SoberRecovery.com offer online help real time to people who are dealing with addictions.
According to the Psychiatric Times, at least 50% of all emergency room visits for drug-related problems are connected to prescription drug misuse or overdose. And surprisingly, prescription drug addiction accounts for about a third of all drug abuse in the United States.
Many people’s image of a typical drug abuser is a strung-out youngster, perhaps late teens or early twenties, who is easily spotted through a stereotyped appearance. These perceptions are usually derived from what we see on the television and in movies. But one person I know who works in a hospital emergency room says that the overwhelming majority of ER cases she sees related to prescription drugs involves people in their thirties and forties – business-class people one would never suspect.
Granted, my statistical sample of “one” doesn’t provide us much info in the way of national trends, but combined with the data presented in the Psychiatric Times, her observations bear some consideration.
Those who have say over workplace policy do well to define clearly up front what constitutes drug abuse and encourage employees with drug problems to seek help. Managers and supervisors should be instructed on how to point people to help and advice, and they should stress the confidential nature of any discussions related to prescription drug addiction.
At the same time, workplaces should make clear that if drug abuse is discovered but help is refused, disciplinary action may be result. After all, safety in the workplace is a high priority issue.
Bottom line, if you have coworkers who match some of the signs listed above, you may know someone addicted to prescription drugs. Long-time readers know my philosophy: Kicking people when they’re down is not a good approach. When people make mistakes, we serve them best if we give them a hand up, not a boot out the door.